How to differentiate and identify Maheshwari and Chanderi sarees

  • Article gives differences between Maheshwari & Chanderi sarees, how to identify genuine saris & where to buy them. 

Non-handloom enthusiasts often confuse between a Maheshwari and Chanderi saree. The line of difference between these two textiles has been blurred now - producers and sellers themselves seem to use the words interchangeably and are not fully aware of the difference. Both these textiles are equally beautiful, have a perceptible identity and mammoth history of their own.


We must preserve the authenticity of the textiles at any cost or at least be aware of what makes a Maheshwari and Chanderi textile authentic, in order to avoid fraud and miscommunication.

Here are some apparent differences between Maheshwaris and Chanderis. These pointers will help identify the textile correctly and see where they diverge.

1. Fabric & Construction 

Both Maheshwaris and Chanderis are made of cotton by silk yarns. Chanderi sarees are also woven in pure silk - both warp (vertical yarns - called ‘Tana’ in local central Indian dialect) and weft (yarns moving horizontally across the loom - called ‘Bana’) have silk. Maheshwaris, however, mostly have silk warp but the weft is cotton. Silk in both warp and weft of Maheshwaris is very rare.


Warp (on left) and weft (on right). Credit REHWA Society.

Chanderis are more delicate, fine and sheer than Maheshwaris. There was a time when the textile was compared to Dhakai Muslin and called woven air due to its sheerness. The texture of Chanderi is more papery while Maheshwaris are softer in texture and feel. Arguably, Maheshwaris are easier to drape & carry, more comfortable and low maintenance than Chanderis. 


The sheer texture of Chanderi sarees. Credit

Maheshwaris were, for the longest time, woven only in pure cotton i.e. cotton yarns in both warp & weft with zari borders. The mixture of cotton and silk yarns in sarees has been a recent addition - say 40 year ago or so - owing to the demand for more durable Maheshwaris, and non-availability of handloom parts required to weave fine quality pure-cotton Maheshwaris.

Designs in Maheshwaris are created in the warp i.e. in the borders. When the loom is being set, the design that will go in the border is set then itself using a dobby mechanism placed on the top of the loom. 


To check-out how the border is set on the dobby mechanism in Maheshwari sarees, see this short video by REHWA Society here


While in Chanderis, the designs are created using extra yarns - almost like embroidery on the base of the textile - in addition the border in the warp. This is called extra-weft weaving technique where the weavers manually insert the motifs in the body of the saree using their bare hands. This extra-weft design is called a butti or buta. Textiles like Jamdani, Paithani and Benarasi are also woven using this technique. 


Observe image to understand extra-weft weaving process of Chanderis. Cr 


4. The Borders & Buttis 

In Chanderis, the entire burden of design is carried by the extra-weft buttis. The borders are often very simple with buttis lending most to the design. 

On the contrary, in Maheshwaris, the border of the saree plays the most crucial role in design. Maheshwaris are known for their simplicity - with classic borders along the saree and in palla. Maheshwaris DO NOT have buttis in the body. The body is either plain, checkered or striped. The palla, however, can have buttis, albeit rarely. Even if there are buttis in the palla, their design is restricted to geometric shapes like circles or triangles.

The buttis, therefore, are the key difference between Maheshwari and Chanderi. 


Body of a Maheshwari saree (left) with an intricate border and stripes, & body of a Chanderi saree with a simple border but intricate buttis. 

Picture credit - REHWA Society and

The motifs in Maheshwaris are more geometric. In Maheshwaris, when we say motifs, we mean the border. The borders in Maheshwari sarees draw heavily from the Ahilya fort in Maheshwar and countless natural elements found in Nimar region, Madhya Pradesh is where the town of Maheshwar is located. 


Borders of Maheshwari sarees-Kairi & Diya. Credit Rehwa Society. 


For example, we see Narmada border in Maheshwaris inspired by the Narmada river, similarly Laher border - again derived from the river, Rui-phool border inspired by the cotton plantations in Nimar (as Nimar is a major cotton-producing region of Madhya Pradesh), Chameli-phool border inspired from the carvings at the Ahilya Fort and so on.


It is believed that Ahilya Bai, the queen of the Holkar kingdom of Malwa, herself had painstakingly designed each of these borders. She brought skilled weavers from different parts of India and gave birth to Maheshwari textiles. It is her aesthetic and personality that is reflected in the sarees - simple, elegant and extremely poised.


Borders of Maheshwari sarees - Rui-phool, Laher and Eent. Cr Rehwa Society. 


Chanderi features mostly curvilinear motifs. The design directory here is dominated by florals, leaves, vines, peacocks, swans, trees, fruits and the majestic architecture of the Chanderi town. Here comes a similarity between the two crafts we have been talking about. The design directory of both these textiles involve heavy usage of natural elements and architectural carvings. 

Some of the most commonly used motifs in Chanderi sarees are ashrafi or gold coin, churi, bundi, keri, phul-patti, phul-buta, akhrot, paan, eent, surajbutti, meenabutti, kalgi and ghoongra, nalferma, dandidar, chatai, jangla, mehndi wale haath. After looking at various motifs, it is safe to say that Chanderi designs have a considerable Mughal influence. 

As mentioned before, Chanderi designs do not rely on borders. The borders are fewer in comparison to Maheshwaris, they are - Nakshi, Adda, zaripatel, piping border etc.

Borders of Chanderi sarees. Credit Nalli Silks. 


Another interesting thing worth mentioning about Chanderis is that the usage of bright, vibrant colours like magenta, orange, fuchsia is a newborn phenomenon. Until 50 years ago, Chanderis were woven in pastels and tones of off-white with sarees being dyed in natural colours like saffron after it was fully woven. Maheshwaris, however, always knew bright colours.


Motifs on Chanderi sarees - Kairi, Mor & Patti. 

Credit - and


How to identify authentic handloom Maheshwari and Chanderi sarees?


When looked closely, handloom products will always have some weaving irregularities, discrepancies. If it looks too perfect, it is most likely a power loom or factory made product. 


Handloom Chanderi sarees are not overly lustrous. They will have a subtle shimmer to it. If the saree is too shiny and bright, it’s not an authentic handloom piece. Same goes for Maheshwaris.


Handloom Chanderis are papery but neither extremely stiff nor extremely soft. The saree drapes really well because of the appropriate balance between stiffness and softness. Maheshwaris, on the other hand, are extremely soft but not slippery. The saree will not slip or slide and will drape perfectly around the curves of the body. 


Always flip and look at the other side of the textile. You can clearly see and feel how the extra-weft buttis are woven in Chanderi sarees - almost like embroidery - bulging slightly. In machine-made sarees, such clear distinction is not possible.


Most Maheshwari textiles are reversible i.e. they can be worn from both sides. Flip the textile, and you will find the exact woven border design. Again, in non-handloom sarees, such precision is very difficult to achieve.


Upon taking a closer look, you can see the warp and weft yarns forming a pattern in these textiles - really fine checks juxtaposed together to form the piece. In non-handloom, you cannot make out the pattern very clearly. 

Where can you shop authentic handloom Maheshwaris and Chanderis?

Thanks to the internet and e-commerce, there are plenty of platforms selling authentic textiles online these days, in addition to government-run physical stores. Here is a comprehensive list of such online and offline avenues -

REHWA SOCIETY for Maheshwaris - REHWA Society is a 40 year old non-governmental organisation based in Maheshwar, Madhya Pradesh. The organisation is run and managed by the Holkar family, the descendants of Ahilyabai Holkar herself.


Inaugurated in 1979, when the Maheshwari craft was on the verge of extinction, REHWA is responsible for reviving the craft and restoring it to its original glory. They work with 68 weavers - providing them sustainable livelihood, suitable working environment, healthcare and education. 


REHWA has one of the best quality of Maheshwari textiles in the country. They offer a wide, versatile array of Maheshwari sarees, dupattas, scarves, fabrics and shawls in both traditional as well as contemporary layouts. You can shop online through website and Instagram or visit their store cum weaving unit in Maheshwar. By buying from REHWA, you are supporting a good cause.


Chanderiyaan for Chanderis - is an e-commerce platform operated by a cluster of Chanderi weavers in collaboration with a Delhi based NGO ‘Digital Empowerment Foundation’. Their products are 100% authentic and still retain the classic, traditional elements of Chanderi craft. By buying from here, you are supporting a good cause. 


Raw Mango for Chanderis - Raw Mango, a high-end fashion brand by designer Sanjay Garg, is known for its luxurious Chanderi sarees. If you have a good budget, you can definitely shop from Raw Mango.


Tana Bana for Maheshwaris - Tana Bana is another set-up based in Maheshwar making fine quality Maheshwari sarees. You can reach out to them on Facebook to shop their products or visit their store in Maheshwar.


Roots Handloom and - Two more producers cum sellers of authentic handloom Chanderi and Maheshwari sarees. You can shop online through their respective websites or Instagram pages.


Mriganaynee is a Madhya Pradesh government undertaking dedicated to showcasing and marketing authentic handloom products from weavers of Madhya Pradesh. You can shop online or visit their stores across the country.

Cheaper, mill-made versions of Maheshwaris and Chanderis have flooded the markets, and pushed authentic textiles to a far corner. As consumers, producers and sellers, we must liberally espouse authentic textiles and bring them back to light. We sincerely hope this article helps us achieve that.

References are three websites ie, and . Cover pic credits 

Author is a handloom and textile enthusiast based in Indore, Madhya Pradesh.


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